Security at school

Martin Shirley, an information technology technician with the Twin Falls School District, installs an outdoor camera in August 2016 at Lincoln Elementary School. 

PAT SUTPHIN, TIMES-NEWS FILE PHOTO

TWIN FALLS — The Twin Falls School District has a new radio system that allows school administrators to more easily communicate during emergencies.

The topic came up Wednesday during the school district and Twin Falls Area Chamber of Commerce‘s yearly legislative tour.

School security has also been a hot topic nationwide, particularly in light of school shootings such as in 2012 in Newtown, Conn. Here in Twin Falls, improving security was identified as a key priority during a school district safety audit in 2014 and has been an ongoing project since then.

This school year, the latest upgrade is a school district-wide radio system. “The driving force behind it was to create a system where schools could communicate with each other,” director of operations Ryan Bowman said Friday.

It’s among a handful of changes, including identification badges for employees and a new computer program, Raptor, that runs school visitors through law enforcement databases. Before the districtwide radio system, school administrators called each other on their cell phones. But that wasn’t convenient for communicating with multiple people quickly.

Some schools had their own radio system, but only for talking within their own building. Now, with the new system, “this creates uniformity throughout the school district,” Bowman said.

It’s a digital system with 100 Kenwood radios throughout the school district. The district is paying $20,000 annually over five years using voter-approved plant facilities levy money and bought the equipment through White Cloud Communications in Twin Falls.

The district bought the radios in the spring and programmed them. School employees started using them in August at the beginning of the school year.

Each school has its own radio channel that allows administrators, front office employees and custodial workers to communicate about safety issues or other topics. That’s particularly helpful at campuses such as Twin Falls High School, which is spread out in different buildings.

There’s also a shared channel across all school campuses and the school district office. If Twin Falls High has a lockdown, for instance, that would allow nearby Sawtooth Elementary School to hear the announcement and make a decision in a timely manner, Bowman said.

Another option is to communicate directly with the school district office. “It lets us know immediately that something’s going on,” Bowman said.

Another big security initiative for the school district is building access control. For the three newest campuses — Rock Creek Elementary School, Pillar Falls Elementary School and South Hills Middle School — there’s a vestibule in the front entrance that directs visitors into the front office. There’s a similar setup at Twin Falls High School’s newly remodeled front entrance.

Now, the district wants to look at a way to funnel visitors into school offices at all campuses, allowing for better monitoring of who’s coming and going.

“That’s one of the big things that we’re going to continue over the next several years,” Bowman said.

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But it won’t be a simple process. “It’s going to be a challenge at some of our older buildings,” Bowman said, especially at Morningside and Harrison elementary schools, where the school office isn’t right next to the front entrance.

Improvements could be made using the plant facilities levy money. But a timeline for projects — or how much they’d cost — is unknown at this point.

“It’s going to take time because some of these buildings are going to be expensive to do,” Bowman said.

Of a nearly $74 million bond voters approved in 2014, $1.3 million was used for security upgrades to existing campuses. That included high-definition security cameras and electronic key card readers.

More upgrades will be coming in future years, likely paid for using plant facilities levy money. The current measure, $3.3 million annually for 10 years, is set to expire this year.

The district is considering bringing a renewal request to voters during the March 2018 election.

School trustees are slated to hear a recommendation in December from a budget advisory committee — which includes community members — about whether to pursue a new levy and how much money to ask for.

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